Sheikh Rashid, the leader of a one-man party with an eminently forgettable name, is an interesting source of information only because he attributes it, quite unabashedly, to powerful quarters in Rawalpindi. That’s why there was both surprise when he warned last month that NAB would return to the arena after Eid like “Tarzan”. Wasn’t NAB already on a rampage to screw the opposition? Had Pindi leaned on NAB to be more even handed and target the ruling party and government as well so that its actions were more credible? But how could NAB dare do that when its chairman was under a cloud of blackmail by the ruling party? Thankfully, some answers were provided last week by a succession of incidents that have put NAB, the PTI government and the Miltablishment in the spotlight, but for all the wrong reasons.
For starters, Tarzan has been hauled over the coals by several judges of the High Courts and Supreme Court. Their honourable Lordships have not minced their words in blasting NAB officials for blithely and unaccountably flouting the norms of justice and victimizing the opposition. At the very least, this judicial intervention means that NAB will no longer be able to deny bail and detain politically exposed suspects for months on end without good reason. That should defang it a bit. But it also implies that NAB has to be seen to be even-handed. And that means going after alleged wrongdoers in the ruling party and government.
This would explain why NAB has decided to inquire into a decision of the Chief Minister of the Punjab, Usman Buzdar, to grant a liquor license to an undistinguished hotel in violation of the Rules. The allegation is that a hefty bribe was taken by Mr Buzdar to do the needful. So now we have the drama of Chief Minister Buzdar humbly going to the NAB HQ without a VVIP escort and returning with a questionnaire for the file. Will he be arrested during the inquiry and investigation stage? No. But PTI spokesmen are already pointing to this development as evidence of NAB’s “fairness” and trying to earn brownie points on that score. It may be noted, however, that when Imran Khan can no longer resist Miltablishment pressure to replace Mr Buzdar, the NAB inquiry will be a handy tool to effect his exit. It may be recalled that when, earlier, Aleem Khan was recommended as CM Punjab by the Miltablishment, Imran Khan promptly leaned on NAB to detain him. In other words, NAB is a willing tool in the hands of the Miltablishment and/or PTI government.
Now Maryam Nawaz has thrown a spanner in the works. If NAB was trying to justify fresh summons to Maryam for a gift she received from her grandfather ages ago – for which she doesn’t legally need to give reasons or explain her grandfather’s income sources – by summoning Mr Buzdar, the young lady has sent NAB scurrying for cover with a show of strength. She has also trounced the PTI government’s repressive tactics without reneging on any assumed commitment to remain unseen and unheard. NAB summoned her, she complied; her supporters accompanied her, how could she spurn them? She insisted on being heard by NAB but NAB insisted she go back home until further notice. So she complied. But what she has accomplished by her derring-do is significant. Months of silence and invisibility hasn’t demoralized her ardent support base, nor diminished her spirit of resistance to an unjust order. Indeed, it has revived the flagging fortunes of the PMLN like nothing else in recent months. Most interestingly, Mr Asif Zardari has woken up from his drugged state to clutch at the same strategy to breathe life into his party too: he says he will attend NAB summons in Islamabad with hundreds of his supporters and the devil take the hindmost! Since neither NAB nor the government can afford a repeat performance of Maryam’s tactics in the capital, it is certain that there will be a huddle in Islamabad on how to avoid a potentially ugly situation.
In short, Tarzan is up the creek without his G-String. This was bound to happen. There is a limit to victimization. There is a limit to judicial docility. There is a limit to political cowardice. There is a limit to media censorship. Sometimes all it takes is for disparate forms of angst or strife to come together to create a new form of resistance which is greater than the sum of its parts.
The leaders of the Miltablishment are still drumming the tune of “all is well, everything is under control, ghabrana nahin”. But no one believes them for a second, not even their own rank and file. But they can hardly admit that because that would push them logically to rectify the situation by getting rid of Imran Khan and the PTI and find a suitable formula for the way ahead. That moment of awakening hasn’t arrived. But it is inevitable. There is a limit to everything.